Diversity, Economics and Education
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multicultural school districts like those in Los Angeles County
are feeling the impact. In the sprawling, 746,800-student Los Angeles
Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, at least 92 different
native languages are spoken. There are more than half-a-million
students who are more fluent in Spanish than in English, nearly
12,000 who speak primarily Armenian and another 47,000 or so who
speak Korean, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mandarin, Tagalog,
Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Persian, Thai or Urdu. There were even
six students in the 2000 school year whose native tongue was Khmu,
an unwritten language from northern Laos.
Historically, immigration and the idea of the melting pot have
been responsible for the success of this country. It has been the
driving force behind our economic, scientific and technological
innovation, arts and culture, and even our democratic institutions.
But historically, it also has presented problems — racism,
discrimination, displacement of existing communities, undercutting
wages and a lot of just plain miscommunication — and it costs
Jeannie Oakes Ph.D. '80, UCLA's Presidential Professor of Education
in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, suggests
that today's multicultural population growth and its impact on the
schools is analogous to what was experienced in the 1950s, when
the baby boomers started flooding into California schools.
"People were dazzled by the challenge, but the state swung
into gear, built schools fast, believed education was important,
had confidence in the new generation, trained new teachers and by
the 1960s had all sorts of programs in place," she says. "We
pulled out all the stops and created something wonderful that led
to a pretty well-educated generation."
She doesn't see it as being so different today.
"The issues and challenges [raised by the diverse nature of
the state's population growth] are not exactly the same as we had
before," Oakes says. "But we can turn it around and say
that in California, more than anywhere else in the U.S., we have
the potential for creating a truly bilingual, globally oriented,
educated population. That is one of the things this country and
the world needs most."
Rosa Furumoto Ed.D. '01, a graduate of UCLA's Educational Leadership
Program and a professor of Chicano studies at California State University,
Northridge, would agree.
"Schools just reflect society," she says. Classroom diversity
can be a tremendous educational opportunity for schools with appropriate
resources. Or it can be the source of terrible headaches for schools
that don't have those resources.